Every time I hear about peers wanting to go into community management, I ask them about it; it might be the people I hang out with, but most of them go into it because they want to go into the games industry but cannot program (or do not have time to learn). Yes, becoming a CM in the games industry can be fun and rewarding – it is an industry I am interested in myself – but that is not the only industry that would benefit from community managers.
When you think about it, CM skills are needed in industries ranging from education to nonprofit organizations to political party chapters. Any industry that relies on engaging with customers can profit from a person with these skills. They may not necessarily use the “community manager” title per se, but the skills those industries are looking for are the same.
What are the differences? What are the similarities?
First, let us consider certain key concepts a community or public relations team in the entertainment (games, in this case) industry might face.
The product (or service, or special need) needs to be differentiated from others.
There are a lot of games in this world. For that matter, there are a lot of other things – charities often cooperate, but they need to make their core values and actions just as clear as a game company needs to be clear about why this new title is different from other titles in its genre or that happen to be released in the same quarter. Why get your audience excited about this one? Why get them excited about your company? How can you get the community to recognize that filling this need is important? Recognizing key points about a given product, service, or need is a key skill of a community manager.
People want to be heard.
In games, massive multiplayer role playing games especially, some players lead others and are very vocal entities in the player community. This can be good. This can be bad, too, as anyone who has had to deal with the phenomenon of trolling can point out. But the fact remains, people want to be heard. Publishing companies sometimes have forums now, where writers and readers can talk with one another. Some companies use contact forms, encouraging customers to ask questions or send in suggestions. No longer can a company just put up a suggestion box in a storefront. Find out where people are talking, and listen. Social media outlets like Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr (among others) are essential for engaging your audience and showing that you are listening to them. Even if you cannot address every single one of their needs and desires, the simple act of acknowledgment is a powerful one. Certainly you do not need to feed the trolls, but you do need to deal with them gracefully and decisively when they do appear. This ability to acknowledge and listen to a customer is a vital ‘soft’ skill; in terms of technical skills, savviness with social media and forum (or wiki) moderation are possibly the greatest technical skills a community manager can know.
You will be working with multiple departments.
In a small business or firm it is not so obvious as everyone wears many hats. That being said, in a larger company or organization, community manager types work with people with many different specialties. If there is a community management or coordination team, you will be working closely with the (or a relevant) marketing department and the IT department. For example, for a game release, community managers might work with product marketing in addition to the persons in charge of the particular title’s website. If you are a community manager and happen to be with marketing, you will be working with IT – in some organizations, education for example, those with community manager roles are sometimes assigned to IT. It really depends on the particular structure of the organization. However, you will be working with multiple people with particular skills and backgrounds. Just as you would listen to customers, and keep their needs and desires in mind, you need to pay attention and work with those whose domains affect your own. Ask how you can help them. Listen to their advice. Make certain you do not blindly accept or dismiss any of it.
Develop your voice.
So far these skills have been about the company or about how you communicate with others within and without. But another key skill for a community manager type, especially those in email or social media, is to develop a voice.
Anyone can learn the mechanics of writing – there are plenty of books, guides, and websites on all forms of writing. However, many of us can tell that the works of Terry Pratchett are different from the works of Raymond Chandler, even though they both are (were) esteemed fiction authors and ostensibly know (knew?) something about keeping readers interested. If you are responding to customer emails or starting conversations on Twitter, read up on developing a voice. Determine how much individuality your industry needs for you to portray (which can vary by company, so do check with the relevant people first) and see what tone would serve your customers and your company best. This takes time, but developing ways you can contribute to the brand – even if it is your own brand – is a useful skill, and one of the more fulfilling ones too.
These are not all the skills a community manager needs, by any means. Can you think of others that apply across industries? Are you a community manager (whatever your title) that works for an unexpected industry? Or do you just want to chime in with a comment? Let us know!